Vassalboro Historical Society gets new Bookeye scanner

The Bookeye scanner recently acquired by the Vassalboro Public Library. (photo courtesy of Janice Clowes)

by Mary Grow

The Vassalboro Historical Society (VHS) has a new tool, and VHS president Jan Clowes is excited about using it and about sharing it.

It’s called a Bookeye scanner, and it takes pictures of documents and transfers them to a computer, from which they can be read, downloaded, printed and otherwise used without risk to the irreplaceable, often-fragile originals.

Clowes and other Historical Society volunteers were scheduled for an on-line training session on the machine March 2. They intend to record the session to use to train others interested, Clowes said.

Meanwhile, she has started scanning, following the instruction manual.

The scanner has three parts. A flattish machine sits on a desk in the VHS office, with a book cradle on its top. The cradle is adjustable to accommodate books and papers of different sizes and to hold them at different angles.

At head height above the cradle is the light that does the scanning. Between the two, a vertical screen shows what is being scanned. The resulting image transfers to the attached computer.

Clowes demonstrated with a hand-written page in a recipe book. She placed the open book in the cradle and pressed a button; a red line shone down to tell her to adjust the book’s position slightly; she did so, pressed the button again and a picture of the page transferred to the computer.

There is also a foot-pedal control, in case the operator needs both hands to keep the document being scanned in position.

Clowes intends to offer use of the scanner to other area organizations, and perhaps to individuals. She and VHS member Dawn Cates happily listed the possibilities – valuable old documents from VHS and other historical societies; Grange, church and other organizations’ records; interesting items from library collections; handwritten store-keepers’ records; school records, including from the former Oak Grove School – “there’s just so much,” Clowes exulted.

“This is a game-changer for getting our information online and safe,” she said.

The Historical Society applied to the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation for funds for a scanner. Clowes said she got a letter from the foundation at the beginning of February, opened it half-expecting a rejection – and found a check for $10,000.

The scanner cost $9,888. The rest of the money, Clowes said, will start a fund to buy a more powerful computer to go with the scanner.

The computer she’s been using is adequate for training. For continued use, Clowes said, the scanner manual recommends “a large, high resolution display and high-speed computer with at least 16 gigabytes of RAM.”

She estimated the computer will cost about $1,200. She and Cates discussed the possibility that if someone donated the entire price, the Historical Society might honor the donor by putting his or her name on the computer.

Clowes’ first project is scanning the multi-volume diary kept by North Vassalboro mill-owner John D. Lang (1799 – 1879). It is part of a collection of Lang-related documents the late Dick Kelly, a VHS member, donated more than 20 years ago.

“We have this wonderful thing that nobody was able to see, and now they’ll be able to,” Clowes said.

CORRECTION: The article headline previously mentioned the Vassalboro library. It should reference the Vassalboro Historical Society. The article headline has been updated.

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